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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Dance in the Village Inn
By Émile Erckmann (1822–1899) and Alexandre Chatrian (1826–1890)
 
From ‘Friend Fritz’

THEY descended therefore into the hall. The stewards of the dance, their straw hats streaming with ribbons, made the round of the hall close to the railing, waving little flags to keep back the crowd. Haan and Schoultz were still walking about looking for partners; Joseph was standing before his desk waiting; Bockel, his double-bass resting against his outstretched leg, and Andrès, his violin under his arm, were stationed close beside him, as they alone were to accompany the waltz.  1
  Little Suzel, leaning on Fritz’s arm, in the midst of the crowd of spectators, cast stolen glances around, her heart beating fast with agitation and inward delight. Every one admired her long tresses of hair, which hung down behind to the very hem of her little blue skirt with its velvet edging; her little round-toed shoes, fastened with black-silk ribbons, which crossed over her snow-white stockings; her rosy lips, her rounded chin, and her graceful flexible neck.  2
  More than one pretty girl scrutinized her with a searching glance, trying to discover something to find fault with, while her round white arm, bare to the elbow after the fashion of the country, rested on Fritz’s with artless grace; but two or three old women, peering at her with half-shut eyes, laughed amidst their wrinkles, and said to each other quite loud, “He has chosen well!”  3
  Kobus, hearing this, turned towards them with a smile of satisfaction. He too would have liked to say something gallant to Suzel, but he could think of nothing—he was too happy.  4
  At last Haan selected from the third bench to the left a woman about six feet high, with black hair, a hawk nose, and piercing eyes, who rose from her seat like a shot and made her way to the floor with a majestic air. He preferred this style of woman; she was the daughter of the burgomaster. Haan seemed quite proud of his choice; he drew himself up and arranged the frill of his shirt, whilst the tall girl, who out-topped him by half a head, looked as if she were taking charge of him.  5
  At the same moment Schoultz led forward a little roundabout woman, with the brightest red hair possible, but gay and smiling, and clinging tight to his elbow as if to prevent him making his escape.  6
  They took their places, in order to make the circuit of the hall, as is the usual custom. Scarcely had they completed the first round when Joseph called out:—  7
  “Kobus, are you ready?”  8
  As his only answer, Fritz seized Suzel by the waist with his left arm, and holding her hand aloof with the other, after the gallant manner of the eighteenth century, he whirled her away like a feather. Joseph commenced his waltz with three strokes of his bow. Every one understood at once that something strange was to follow—a waltz of the spirits of the air, which they dance on summer nights when nothing is to be seen but a streak of reddish light in the distant horizon; when the leaves cease their rustling, when the insects fold their wings to rest, and the chorister of the night preludes his song with three notes,—the first low and deep, the second tender, and the third so full of life and passion that every noise is hushed to listen.  9
  So commenced Joseph, having many a time in his wandering life taken lessons from the songster of the night, his elbow resting on some mossy bank, his head supported on his hand, and his eyes closed in a sort of dreamy ecstasy of delight. Then, rising in animation, like the grand master of melody with his quivering wings, who showers down every evening around the nest where his well-beloved reposes, more floods of melody than the dew showers pearly drops on the grass of the valley, the waltz commenced,—rapid, sparkling, wild: the spirits of the air soared aloft, drawing Fritz and Suzel, Haan and the burgomaster’s daughter, Schoultz and his partner, after them in endless gyrations. Bockel threw in the distant murmur of the mountain torrents, and the tall Andrès marked the time with rapid and joyous touches, like the cries of the swallows cutting the air;—for inspiration comes from heaven, and knows no law but its own fantasy, while order and measure reign on this lower earth!  10
  And now picture to yourself the amorous circles of the waltz crossing and interlacing in never-ending succession, the flying feet, the floating robes, rounding and swelling in fan-shaped curves; Fritz holding little Suzel in his arms, raising her hand aloft gracefully, gazing at her with delight, whirling around at times like the wind, and then slowly revolving in measured cadence, smiling, dreaming, gazing at her again, and then darting off with renewed ardor; whilst she, with her waist undulating in graceful curves, her long tresses floating behind her like wings, and her charming little head thrown backwards, gazed at him in ecstasy, her little feet scarcely touching the ground as she flew along.  11
  Fat Haan, grappling his tall partner with uplifted arm, galloped away without a moment’s intermission, balancing and stamping with his heels to mark the time, and looking up at her from time to time with an air of profound admiration; while she, with her hooked nose, twirled about like a weathercock.  12
  Schoultz, his back rounded in a semicircle and his long legs bent, held his red-haired partner under the arms, and kept turning, turning, turning, without a moment’s cessation, and with the most wonderful regularity, like a bobbin on its spindle, and keeping time so exactly that the spectators were fairly enchanted.  13
  But it was Fritz and the little Suzel that excited universal admiration, from the grace of their movements and the happiness which shone in their faces. They no longer belonged to this lower earth,—they felt as if they were floating in a sort of celestial atmosphere. This music, singing in joyous strains the praises of happiness and love, seemed as if composed expressly for them. The eyes of the whole hall were riveted upon them, while they saw no one but each other. At times their youth and good looks so excited the enthusiasm of the audience that it seemed as if they were about to burst into a thunder of applause; but their anxiety to hear the waltz kept them silent. It was only when Haan, almost beside himself with delight in the contemplation of the tall burgomaster’s daughter, raised himself on tiptoe, and whirling her around him twice shouted in a stentorian voice—“You! you!” subsiding the next moment into the regular cadence of the dance, and when Schoultz at the same moment, raising his right leg, passed it, without missing a bar of the tune, over the head of his plump little partner, and in a hoarse voice, and whirling round like one possessed, began to shout, “You! you! you! you! you! you!” that the admiration of the spectators found vent in clapping of hands and stamping of feet, and a storm of hurrahs which shook the whole building.  14
  Never in their whole lives had they seen such dancing. The enthusiasm lasted for more than five minutes, and when at last it died away they heard with pleasure the waltz of the spirits of the air again resume the ascendant, as the song of the nightingale swells out in the night air after the summer storm has passed.  15
  At last Haan and Schoultz were fairly exhausted; the perspiration was pouring down their cheeks, and they were fain to promenade their partners through the hall; although it seemed as if Haan were being led about by his danseuse, while Schoultz, on the other hand, looked as if he were carrying his fair one suspended from his elbow.  16
  Suzel and Fritz still kept whirling round. The shouts and stamping of feet of the spectators did not seem to reach their ears; and when Joseph, himself exhausted, drew the last long-drawn sigh of love for his violin, they stopped exactly opposite Father Christel and another old Anabaptist, who had just entered the hall, and were gazing at them with surprise and admiration.  17
  “Hallo! So you are here too, Father Christel,” exclaimed Fritz, beaming with delight; “you see Suzel and I have been dancing together.”  18
  “It is a great honor for us, Mr. Kobus,” replied the farmer, smiling; “a great honor indeed. But does the little one understand it? I fancied she had never danced a step in her life.”  19
  “Why, Father Christel, Suzel is a butterfly, a perfect little fairy; I believe she has wings!”  20
  Suzel was leaning on his arm, her eyes cast down, and her cheeks covered with blushes; and Father Christel, looking at her with delight, asked:—  21
  “But Suzel, who taught you to dance? I was quite surprised to see you just now.”  22
  “Mazel and I,” replied the little one, “used to take a turn or two in the kitchen now and then to amuse ourselves.”  23
  Then the people around, who had leaned forward to listen, could not help laughing; and the other Anabaptist exclaimed:—  24
  “What are you thinking of, Christel? Do you imagine that young girls require to be taught to waltz? Don’t you know that it comes to them by nature? Ha! ha! ha!”  25
 
 
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